Saturday, April 12, 2014

Villa Escudero: Life at a Plantation

The last time we visited Villa Escudero, we were a family of three and Kevin was a little over two years old.  Fast forward to twelve years later, the prospect of visiting the famous hacienda-turned-resort seemed a good idea following my recent interests in plantation estates.  A few weeks prior to that, I have been voraciously reading about the history of Canlubang Sugar Estates of Laguna and was captivated by the nostalgia of a once prosperous town from the era of feudalism.

Villa Escudero's Labasin Lake
Villa Escudero was a coconut plantation in late 1880s and part of its land was converted and opened to the public as a resort featuring hacienda life.  This is easily accessible right off the highway following the arch between the San Pablo City, Laguna and Tiaong, Quezon boundary.  The dirt road leads to the main reception hall where you will be greeted by the receptionists and guest relations team garbed in baro at saya.  Enjoy the sights and sounds of Villa Escudero via day tour or overnight stay packages.

From the nipa hut style reception hall, you can walk directly to get a glimpse of the hacienda’s homestead. This was painted in pink and white and dutifully preserved the original architecture of what was once home to the hacienda owners.  When I was still a child, I learned from my maternal grandmother that while old houses used to have two floors, only what we technically recognize as the ‘second floor’ is habitable.  The area below it is usually an open space where the owners may choose to keep smaller livestock like chickens. The homestead of Villa Escudero was designed in the same fashion, where two opposite staircases lead to the veranda and main door. Most probably, there were two staircases because in the old world, men and women do not mingle intimately and rub elbows in such cramped areas, or any other area. The ground level of the house was enclosed though. The hacienda’s villa faces a sprawling garden with a fountain at the center. Unfortunately, the villa’s interior is not open for public viewing. 

View of Church-turned-Museum 

Carabao-Cart ride with Maganda
 Very close to the homestead is the museum, also painted in pink and white, which used to be a church for the plantation owners and their feudals. This is now housing the Escudero’s grand collection of religious collections and antiques not only from the Old Philippines but also from around the world which, as I have read, the owners acquired from their travels.  Actually, to say grand is an understatement! No one is allowed to take pictures inside the museum so I have to commit everything to memory.

I really encourage you to visit this museum when in Villa Escudero.  The first time I made my round, I was too busy chasing a two year old to make sure we don’t end up paying a broken-million-pesos-something. This time around, my culture-vulture self took its time to appreciate the collection. I was in awe of the sheer number of life-size statues of Jesus of Nazarene, Saints, and Santo Ninos.  It was amazing to see a full life-size collection of The Last Supper, imagining the effort and resources it took to get those. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour at the upper floor showcasing collection of more than a hundred dolls from around the world, fashionable garbs for the elite men and women of pre-modern world Philippines, old currencies, letters and correspondences and valuable knick knacks. Naturally, I gravitated towards the collection of abanicos, silver backed mirrors, paynetas, jewelries and medallions. One can almost imagine being transported back in time, living as a well-to-do daughter of a haciendero and being surrounded by old-rich splendor.

From the museum, you will be treated to a carabao-driven cart while serenaded by a manong. This will take you to the main pavillion and from there you can choose to pass the day by swimming (there are three pools close by), trying out the raft at the Labasin lake (it’s quite strenuous; make sure at least one of you really know how to properly maneuver the raft), or if you have enough patience (and skill), try fishing for only Php 100 for the cost of borrowing the fishing rod and the bait. My daughter Kyla thoroughly enjoyed this and spent the afternoon fishing with her Dad. Kyla caught a total of four fishes!  She promptly returned the fish back to the lake after the mandatory photo shoot every time she caught one.

One of the main attractions of Villa Escudero is lunch by the waterfalls. The man-made falls are run by the hacienda’s hydroelectric system. Tables upon rows of tables are set at the foot of the waterfalls where you can partake of the  buffet spread of Filipino dishes al fresco while your feet are submerged in ankle deep cool water from the falls. It is quite a unique treat!  I realized that the buffet has not really changed but nonetheless still appetizingly good -- Filipino style ensalada, pancit, grilled meats (pork, chicken) and fish, kaldereta, vegetable stews, fresh fruits and banana cue for dessert. 

Lunch Al Fresco by the Falls
We ate a bit late to avoid the mad rush and long queue

Alvin wore his 12-yr old Villa Escudero shirt
Her second of four catches for the day!
Patience is a virtue

The afternoon attraction is the cultural dance and rondalla presentation showcasing famous songs and dances from the diffferent regions of the Philippines, choregraphed by Ramon Obusan. The singers and presentors are actually from the employees and residents of the hacienda. When visiting the hacienda, stick around for the cultural show and I assure you that you won’t be disappointed!

Mano Po!

Cultural Show featuring Ifugao dance

I didnt really quite explain to her this scene...
We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the grounds where you will find various life-like statues depicting life and traditions at the rural Philippines. There were scenes depicting pagmamano, harana, palo sebo, pag-aaro sa bukid, sabong and whole lot more. When my daughter studied in an IS, they had a whole semester studying about “life in the olden days” and this was a good show-and-tell learning opportunity to show her life at the barrios, although I must admit I deliberately left the details of pagliligawan (scenes depecting courtship) for a later phase.

"Uso pa ba ang harana?..."

Ready for farming
This is what I call Synchronized Swinging

Overall, it was a very relaxing and satisfying day! When in Philippines and in the Southern Tagalog region of Laguna-Quezon, do visit Villa Escudero for a glimpse of a life an an old world plantation, when life used to be unhurried and simpler.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sunny Days (Alvin's Inspirational Speech from the 2014 Commencement Exercise of Optimal Academy)

After what seemed to be a long while, Kevin was blessed to have been a part of Special Education once more after we came back to Manila last year.  That we landed with Optimal Academy was not a mere happenstance, if I look back.  I was in a meeting with Kevin's speech therapist in another center when I saw the school's flyer propped at the desk. I took one and thought that this is what Kevin needed. We have been looking for a new school for him somewhere within south. Alvin and I decided to visit their school that week. And rest, is history.

In Optimal Academy's Commencement Exercise and Recognition Day for undergraduates, my husband Alvin had the privilege of giving an inspirational talk about a father and son's journey through life's challenges.  Known as "Daddy Alvin" at school, he is a mainstay at Optimal Academy.  All the students know him and in a way, he is sort of a father figure for them as well alongside Sir John (school President), especially for the teenage boys.

Alvin's speech brought tears to my eyes, remembering the poignant days when we were starting out as young parents for Kevin and Kyla.  But it also gave me an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness to the Lord, for giving me a better half who is truly our hero in every sense of the word.  

This is the transcript of his speech....

"Good afternoon to all!

Some of you already know me because I always go to Optimal Academy with my son Kevin.  Today, let me introduce myself a little bit more.

I am a Chemical Engineer by profession, and worked for years in San Miguel Corporation until Kevin was diagnosed with ASD with Apraxia when was nearly 3 years old.  My wife Armie, who is also a Chemical Engineer, is the one literally supporting our family right now.  So I would like to thank her for doing the job that I am supposed to do.  She once told me, that we all have roles in life... And this is my role.

Ten years ago, my wife and I decided that one of us should focus on attending to Kevin full-time, so that we can understand his needs better and help him in the process.  At first, it wasn't easy for me to accept the role that I am doing.  I felt ashamed of myself when some of my peers would ask me where I am working.  I am afraid that some of them will not understand me, especially those who don't know Kevin and his challenges.  Well it doesn't really matter, as long as I am getting the love and respect from my wife and my kids, it's fine with me.

Then, I learned about Stock Market Online.  That changed everything.  It's not much, but enough to bring back my self confidence and improve my skills.  So every day, Kevin and I go to Optimal Academy for him to study,  and for me to work (on my stocks) and assist him.  With God's help, we found the best set up for the two us.

Kevin has a sister, her name is Kyla.  Everyday, after coming from school, the first thing that Kyla would do is check Kevin's diary.  She also likes teaching Kevin at home.  Whenever she has no class, she always come with us in Optimal Academy to help Kevin and the other students too. One day she told us that she would like to be a teacher for special children and that she will open her own school someday.

Among the parents here, I would say I am lucky, to have the opportunity to see these children every day.  So please allow me share to you some of my observations in the school.

First, they are learning because they are happy.  Unlike most of us, we become happy only if we get the things we want in life.  But for these students, happiness comes first.  They go to school every day excited, because they know that they will have fun.  They like going to school, and they love the people in Optimal Academy.  I challenge you..., visit Optimal Academy and count the people that will greet you.  Some students will even hug you!  And then, go to other schools and see if you'll get the same. The feeling of being welcomed and accepted makes them ready to listen and learn.  So, make them happy and they will learn.  I remember the time when I taught Kevin how to use chopsticks.  He learned it in just one day simply because he likes to eat and he was happy.

The second point that I would like to share is, not every day is a Sunny Day... But I am sure, Sunny Days will always come.  There will be days with crying and resistance... and there will be days, they will surprise you on how fast they learn.

When Kevin was six years old, his Developmental Pediatrician told us that Kevin will never talk... that we can already stop his Speech therapy, and start teaching him PECS (Picture-Exchange Communication System).  It was hard to accept, but we followed the doctor's recommendation.  We introduced PECS to him.  However, we did not stop his Speech therapy.  In short, we did not give up... and will never give up.

After four years, at age 10, he started communicating with us verbally.  He learned to say simple words like, "I want to eat" when he is hungry, "I want to sleep" when he is tired and "I want toilet" when he wants to go...

And then January of this year, just three months ago..., Kevin started reading.  Something we did not expect.  Believe it or not, our goal for this school year is just for him to learn the alphabet... Just the simple A, B, C.  It took him a while... but he's now getting there.

THANK YOU to the teachers of Optimal Academy for your patience and always believing on him.  Truly, everything will fall into the right place, at the right time... IN GOD'S TIME!

And today, to all the graduates, TODAY IS YOUR TIME! So congratulations to you all for a job well done.  And to the other students, as Teacher Lani always say, "YOU CAN DO IT"..., "WE CAN DO IT!"

I would like to end my sharing with a short video for you to know and understand Kevin.  Hope you'll like it.  Thank you and good day!"

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Country Staycation Weekend at Discovery Suites

We decided to continue the tradition of welcoming the Chinese New Year in style.  This year, we spent our CNY Staycation weekend at the Discovery Country Suites in Tagaytay.  This city, with its cool and breezy weather, always evokes peace and tranquility.  A perfect getaway for families looking for a break from the daily grind.  Discovery Country Suites (DCS) under the Discovery Suites hotel chain, is an elegant country- side Bed and Breakfast retreat that offers a great view of the Tagaytay ridge and Taal lake and volcano. I like the idea of simply chilling out and doing nothing.

Misty mornings at Country Suites

Facade of the Discovery Country Suites

Our suite opens to this loft

There are seven suites at DCS and each comes with a unique theme. The rooms  are spacious and comfortable enough for a family of four. We had the Spanish-themed Andalucia suite located at the loft level.

This window overlooks the lake... and the Starbucks beside DCS

Bold colors dominate the Andalucia suite
The Verbena restaurant is cozy and intimate setting that extends to an enclosed balcony. Sumptuous breakfast is served here.  Select a hearty breakfast of your choice from their extensive menu and the chef will cook this for you.  There is an accompanying spread of bread, cheese, jam and fresh fruits and juices.  I selected the very tempting steak and eggs breakfast. Every calorie was worth it!

Guests also are treated to a wine and cheese platter every afternoon at the Verbena restaurant.  Perfect for an afternoon chit-chat with hubby while we excitedly ponder our plans for 2014.  The youngsters get to have cookies and milk for an afternoon snack.

My brekky of choice- Steak and Eggs.
Will worry about the calories later.
Sumptuous breakfast at the balcony.
I'd love to wake up everyday with this.
Wine and cheese afternoon with hubby while we ponder our 2014 plans
After breakfast, we also did a bit of exploration around. There is a small garden that overlooks the Tagaytay ridge and a family sized jacuzzi pool, if you dare to jump in and brave the surrounding cold weather!

Small backyard garden for an afternoon stroll

The lake and volcano -- visible when its not too misty

Jacuzzi pool looks tempting. But not in this weather.

A quiet staycation - just what we needed

  • Intimate setting - with maximum of seven rooms, you are not plagued by an abundant, rowdy crowd
  • Perfect for those looking for a peaceful retreat
  • Tasty and tempting food choices at Verbena restaurant. 
  • Close to Starbucks for your caffeine fix
  • Lots of other places to see around Tagaytay, if you feel like going out
  • I would not go there again on a holiday weekend though. Traffic was a bummer!
  • I appreciate peace and quiet.  At some point, the place was way toooooo quiet.
  • The bathroom amenities and towels need some upgrade. I expected better given the price of an overnight stay.
Overall, it was a weekend well spent.  Just what I needed just before the stressful weeks ahead at work!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cheers for Five Years of Metamorphosis

Five years is quite a milestone for Metamorphosis*.

In my January 2013 article, I recalled “(The blog) started as an extension of my childhood diary days and the habit of putting thoughts into writing.  When I ventured into my first article in my blog site, all I wanted is to have an online repository for my essays and musings.  Metamorphosis was the title of my column in the UST Thomasian Engineer Journal. I decided to stick with this because of its symbolism.”

For someone who grew up to be painfully shy, writing is a great medium to express one’s thoughts and individuality. It is humbling how a simple blog whose roots came from solitary childhood ramblings grew to become a means to share life’s serendipities and somehow touch lives, albeit one person at a time, one article at a time.

Thank you dear friends and readers for allowing me to share a part of that voice with you!

*My column Metamorphosis got its name from the transformation of a lowly caterpillar to a bright and beautiful butterfly, after hibernating in the darkness of the cocoon. One can have a greater appreciation of light and beauty after getting enveloped into darkness and solitude.